Three weeks after Betsy Roggenburk Mastaglio's new sitter started, she wasn't so sure it was going to work out. Each day, when the three girls' (ages 7, 3 and 1) headed out the door, the sitter would watch Mastaglio get all their shoes and jackets on. "I had to ask her to [help] get them in to the car." Worse, the sitter's actions were causing Mastaglio stress -- and she had just returned to work full-time, to a new job, and the family had just moved to a fixer-upper in a Philadelphia suburb. "I felt resentful," she explained, adding that she didn't want to feel like she was barking orders in front of her kids.
Mastaglio's story is common to many parents going through periods of high stress where a nanny is more important than before, but wondering if she's the perfect fit for your current needs.
There will always be moments when your expectations and your nanny's actions won't add up. The good news is that there are great times to sit down and have a review - like a 90-day point with the family, a one-year anniversary, a child's birthday (after the pediatrician's developmental checkup) and the start of a new calendar year. These are perfect chances to set goals with and for your nanny so you can address any issues and set the stage for a more fulfilling year ahead.
"A year-end meeting with your caregiver is just as important as a parent-teacher conference," says Michelle Borba, Ed.D parenting expert for the TODAY Show and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. "It's a chance to open lines of communication, celebrate what's been going well, and set goals for what could be going better."
Here's how to prepare for and lead that meeting:
- Make it an occasion: Invite your caregiver out to lunch or coffee, Borba suggests, or if you meet in your home, choose a time when the kids won't be around. You don't want distractions. Tell him or her that you want to take time out to check in and see how the year has gone and talk about what's coming up in the year ahead.
- Set an agenda: Before the meeting, write down a few points you want to cover on an index card. You don't have to follow a script, but you want to make sure you address everything you want to address and don't get sidetracked by the conversation.
- Have key discussions: Before your meeting, talk to your child's teachers or pediatrician to make sure you, your partner and your nanny are all challenging him appropriately at home. See what else you might need to be doing to get him up to speed -- whether it's adding more down time, active sports or problem solving. Come up with a few project ideas you'd like your nanny to start incorporating into the day and make sure she'll be okay adding that to the routine.
- Manage your mindset: Now is the perfect time to embrace or remember your role: the boss. "It feels awkward to think of ourselves as the boss of someone who sees our dirty laundry and our intimate situations," says Elizabeth Hechtman, MS, CPCC, a women's leadership coach. But when we fail to own our true rule as employer and leader, we miss out. "We have enormous skills as leaders and bosses and managers that apply to our life at home too, but we only think to use them in the workplace." What's so important about getting in to the mindset of a leader? "When we function as a leader, we much more likely to assess our own strengths and vulnerabilities and then determine what we have to do to move our vision forward. When we're not, we're letting circumstances dictate our reality."
- Start with the positive: Set a non-threatening tone for the meeting by noting what's going well first. And try to use the word "we" in your sentences, Borba says. "You want an open, genuine conversation. Using 'we' helps to keep everyone on the same page."
- Remember to listen as much as you speak: This is an opportunity for you to hear what's working and not working for your caregiver too, and to get their objective perspective on your kids. "You don't want to walk out thinking: 'what did she say?'" Borba says. "Maybe she didn't say anything because you were talking the whole time."
- Accept responsibility: For any issues you have to address, Hechtman suggests broaching it by owning your role in it first. "You can say something like, 'There are certain things that aren't working, and I've realized how I have contributed to that. So I'm going to be making some changes and I wanted to let you know.'" Then you can explain how you'd like the caregiver's actions to change too.
- Go over the calendar: Bring your calendar and ask your caregiver to bring hers too, so you can map out vacations, times when perhaps your older kids will be out of school and need care too. This is a great opportunity to get in sync on multiple levels, and it will help you not get blindsided by a sudden lapse in child care.
- Document: If this meeting brings up new strategies and rules, and if it adds any details about how she will be paid, or how vacations might be handled, put it all in writing. Use these tips to writing a nanny contract as your guide.
- Assess: For the few weeks after the meeting is over, watch to see how your caregiver responds to any feedback and requests you made during the meeting. "After the meetings, it's time to step back and watch. Does she do what you're asking her to do?" Borba says.
- Check in with your emotions: If you're still feeling unsure if your caregiver is on the same page as you, it's time to create a little space in your life for getting quiet and listening to what your heart is trying to tell you, Hechtman says. "If you're feeling any fear that you're not trusting your kids to the right people, don't say everything's fine. The moment you give yourself permission to feel what you're feeling, you'll know what changes you have to make."
As for Mastaglio, she's gearing up for her "the year ahead" talk with her new hire.
Kate Hanley is a mind-body coach, writer and author. She runs a stress-relief workshop for busy, stressed out moms called Kate's Yoga Playhouse.